The student-led movement to end mass atrocities.

Euroscepticism and Neofascism: should we be scared?

This post was written by Michael Mansheim, STAND’s Programs Intern and a Senior at American University. 

In Athens and many cities and towns across Greece, thebeatings of immigrants and other social outcasts continue. All too often, the perpetrators come from the supporters or members of the neo-nazi Golden Dawn party. Gathering increased support as the Greek economy grows worse and worse, the recent rise of the Golden Dawn has drawn many comparisons to the rise of the Nazi regime in the 1930’s. Swept into popularity by the current lack of faith in the EU among Greeks, the aggressively neo-fascist party is now the third most popular political party in Greece, and is making inroads on its mainstream opponents.

However not just Greece, with its tattered economy and high unemployment, is feeling the landswell support for the far-right in Europe. Eurosceptic parties (who oppose the EU) have been receiving larger and larger support since 2007. In the last round of European Parliament elections, Eurosceptics in the UK, France and Denmark came out on top, finding considerable support as the economy in the Eurozone remains poor.

These parties in the UK, France and Denmark are democratic, something the Golden Dawn has spat on. With their open adoration of figures from both Nazi Germany and their Greek Fascist contemporaries, adoption of Nazi symbols (indirectly, but with very little subtlety) and incredible taste for violence, the Golden Dawn seems a throwback to a much uglier version of Europe. So far, the party has showed a talent for being able to disconnect itself from much of the violence done for the glory of its causes. This includes the incitement of many of the riots that occurred in Athens and the murder of a prominent anti-fascist hip hop musician.

Within the Greek Police, there is a huge amount of support for the movement. The police support is mostly due to the adverse effects that austerity spending has had on their ranks. Many have alleged that murderers and attackers of immigrants either come from the ranks of the police, or are sheltered by them; a fifth column undermining society from within, devoted to covering up and destroying evidence of hate crimes. Activists who have been jailed have reported experiencing brutality and being forced to listen to Golden Dawn propaganda while imprisoned. In addition, beginning in 2012, migrants without proper identification were rounded up on the streets by police and putting them in camps.

However, maybe the most troubling allegation about Greek fascist groups, in particular the Black Lily group, is that they have a habit of sending their young volunteers to fight for the Assad regime in Syria. This link is potentially due to the small number of Orthodox Christians being protected by the regime, as well the connections between the Assad regime and white supremacist organizations; Assad has previously played host to British nationalists and David Duke, American KKK leader extraordinaire. The move also raises fears that the volunteers could return to Greece with military experience or hardware gained during the fighting in Syria. This nouveau Condor Legion could prove to be the spearhead of fascist violence in Greece as Golden Dawn rises in the polls despite its violent reputation.

The rise of the Golden Dawn should be incredibly concerning for the rest of Europe. The lip service being paid to “Never Again” in regards to fascism are clearly for nothing if a political party that glamorizes and openly admires nazism is allowed to come to power in the EU.

Regions of Intractable Conflicts: Sudan & South Sudan

This article was written by STAND’s Programs Intern Michael Mansheim, a senior at American University studying International Relations. 

I recently attended a talk given at American University by Linda Bashai, Senior Program Officer in the Center for Middle East and Africa at the United States Institute of Peace. She spoke concerning recent events in Sudan and South Sudan, focusing on the shift that had occurred pre-2011 that caused South Sudan to split from the north.

Bashai broke Sudan pre-split down into four basic aspects: markets, media, culture, and law.

The first of these aspects is the market of Sudan. Bashai reported that when it comes to Africa, there are typically two ways that people think about economic growth. The first is that once African countries have access to free and open markets, development will increase and the issue of poor development will be dealt with. The second theory is that all economic problems in Africa stem from colonialism and the neo-colonialism of corporations and western interference in Africa. Bashai suggested that both of these have some elements of truth, however, what they miss out on is that colonialism is not necessarily the driver of inequality; instead poor management by African leaders and graft are reasons goods can’t reach free markets.

Before the split with South Sudan, Sudan was experiencing a 5% per year growth rate due to the large deposits of oil the country possesses. However, the Sudanese economy is now faltering; the majority of the oil now officially belongs to the South Sudanese (South Sudan now controls about 75% of the oil that was in Sudan pre-independence) and quick oil profits meant that Sudanese government leadership never took the opportunity to diversify their investments. China, interested in the oil to satiate their growing demands, invested heavily in Sudan. Well known in Africa for doing business with any country without political considerations, the Chinese got busy building ports, roads, bridges, giving loans and technical knowledge to a burgeoning Sudanese arms industry. In return, Sudan sold China 70% of its oil, and China sold Sudan weapons circumventing the arms embargo on weapons to be used in Darfur.

On the topic of weapons, Al-Bashir invests heavily in the Sudanese military, creating multiple military forces so that none can become too powerful and depose him. In fact, many government agencies have their own armed force. Despite the strength of the Sudanese forces, they have never been deployed to protect the borders of the country; the Sudanese armed forces have always been deployed internally.

The Sudanese media is another important aspect of Sudan. The Western news media often portrays Al-Bashir as a monolith, a strong man running Sudan. However, Bashai reports that instead Sudan is run by Al-Bashir with an oligarchy of prominent ministers, more like a board of directors instead of an iron fisted tyrant. Media in Sudan is mostly state-run, and widely reports the idea that Sudanese economic issues are due to neo-colonialism and US thirst for oil. The government limits knowledge of atrocities and human rights abuses, and controls the internet to restrict access to knowledge of the problems in the country. The most surprising revelation that Bashai had was that the average Sudanese citizen has no idea how their country is perceived by the rest of the world.

Culturally, Sudan is often split. The capital city of Khartoum is a very international city that tries very hard to maintain a Middle East identity. Due to the high level of development in the city, a core and periphery relationship has developed with the highly underdeveloped nature of the rest of Sudan. Although 97% of Sudan is Muslim, a great divide has been constructed by the government and society to exist between Arab and African Muslims in the country. This rivalry was exacerbated due to policies enacted during the 1960’s and recently due to the desertification of the southern regions of Sudan and South Sudan. The allocation of oil wealth has vastly favored the “Arab Muslims”, who make up much of the country’s elite.

The last aspect is law: both domestically and internationally, law is something with which Sudan struggles. The ICC has called for the arrest of Al-Bashir, the first time this has happened to a sitting world leader. To deal with the issues created in Darfur and elsewhere, Bashai suggested the creation of hybrid tribunals, something done in the wake of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. Sudan’s government has domestically popularized the idea that the ICC is stacking the deck against Africans, as Africans have been primarily targeted for arrest and prosecution by the court. This perception is a major factor holding back prosecution of the crimes committed in Sudan.

Democracy is a long way off, as opposition parties have been bought off or threatened into coalescence; most citizens in Sudan understand the lack of legitimacy opposition are afforded.  Al-Bashir, although in some ways weak due to the removal of much oil wealth, is hard to topple. Al-Bashir shouldn’t be in office, but the process of removal must be done with great care so as to not create a power vacuum in the region.

Bashai concluded by saying that it will be very hard to fix the problems Sudan and South Sudan are facing. There is very little government legitimacy, limited legal institutions or civil society and the creation of these things begets a massive cultural and governmental shift in the country. Institutions made corrupt or ineffective under the Al-Bashir government have to change to help the people of the Sudans. However, despite the intense subject matter, Bashai ended by reminding the audience that there is no monopoly on good governance.

Statelessness and Western Sahara

This article was written by STAND’s Programs Intern Michael Mansheim, a senior at American University studying International Relations. 

In the western deserts of Algeria live about 90,000 refugees from the disputed area known as Western Sahara. These refugees are the Sahrawi people, the people of the farthest western reaches of the Sahara desert. The region they have fled has been mired in conflict since the 1970’s, and despite a UN mandated peacekeeping force, shows no signs of escaping the long and protracted fight.

Despite being an incredibly drawn out conflict, reporting on the conflict has been very sparse, perhaps due to the inaccessibility of the remote desert battlegrounds and the complicated nature of the conflict. Beginning in the early 1970’s when the area was still under the control of Spain’s colonial empire, the Polisario Front, a Sahrawi liberation military organization backed by Algeria, began their fight for independence. However, as the fascist government in Spain began to crumble, control of Western Sahara wasn’t handed over to its native occupants as planned; instead it was split into thirds, with Morocco controlling two and the remaining third controlled by Mauritania.

The Polisario Front, outraged by the agreement, as well as the “Green March,” a movement of Moroccan civilians into Western Sahara, declared war on Morocco. After devastating attacks on the Mauritanian army, the third of Western Sahara controlled by Mauritania passed into Sahrawi hands. Morocco subsequently extended its reach south, and succeeded in creating a stalemate in the conflict through the creation of the “Moroccan Wall”, a 2,700 km long embankment fortified with frequent strong points and the world’s longest minefield. In 1991, the UN arrived to enforce a ceasefire, but the truce has been uneasy with both sides maintaining the status quo.

Due to the placement of the minefield, the Sahrawi have been forced into abandoning their traditional nomadic bedouin lifestyle. In the four huge camps in Algeria, economic and even subsistence opportunities are few and far between. Most families in the camp have at least one member working abroad, or fighting in the Polisario Front, which pays a wage of $55 a month. The dry, rocky nature of the surrounding desert means that any sort of farming is nearly impossible, making refugees dependent on cash earning relatives or western agencies such as USAID for food. Membership in the Polisario Front is increasing, due to the unrest and lack of opportunity young men have in their Algerian exile.

The conflict in Western Sahara has the possibility to destabilize the region, both due to the high numbers of refugees it creates and regional trends of the violent nature of post-independence states. Numerous human rights violations have been alleged, and western organizations have condemned the way Morocco has fought the insurgency.

For more resources on understanding this conflict, check out the BBC profile of the conflicthere, an article on the situation as of April from Vice Magazine here, and the homepage of the UN peacekeeping mission in Western Sahara here.

Five Factors That Make Genocide More Likely

This post is written by Michael Mansheim, STAND Programs Intern, who is a senior at American University.

No country is immune to a genocidal period. However, there are many factors that raise the possibility of a genocide occurring in a country during any one period. For the purposes of this post, we can define genocide as: any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such : (a) Killing members of the group; (b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; (c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; (d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; (e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group. Here are five of the most potent factors:

1. A non-democratic government. Democratically elected governments have committed very few acts of genocide, due to the responsiveness to public pressures felt by democracies. Autocracies, totalitarian states and communist governments have committed the most deadly acts of genocide in the 20th and 21st centuries.

2. A state of war or rebellion. War creates the perfect cover for genocide. Add in the fact that many times rebellions and insurrections in the modern world are often fought by ethnic minorities in their country, and wartime becomes a dangerous time for potential ethnic cleansing and genocide.

3. A bipolar social structure. One of the most dangerous ways a society can be socially structured is into two opposing groups, which creates an “us and them” mentality. A bipolar social structure is often a socially constructed. In Rwanda before its genocidal period, the concept of ethnicity was used to establish a social order that encouraged Tutsi hegemony over a Hutu majority. This is especially apparent in post-colonial societies; colonizers structured societies to gain greater control over territory during the colonial period. The problems that stem from colonial legacies remain for many decades after independence.

4. Dangerous language and symbols. Your high school English teacher isn’t the only one who knows the power that symbols and symbolism can have over people. Symbols can effectually dehumanize groups of people, one of the steps on the road to genocide. In the Holocaust, Jews were forced to wear a yellow star, something that became central to how they were viewed. If you don’t think symbols are important, think of how much power the swastika still holds almost 70 years after the fall of the Third Reich. In more recent times, Tutsis in Rwanda were called cockroaches leading up to the 1994 genocide, and there has been widespread hate speech against the Rohingya in Burma as well as the spread of anti-Muslim sentiments.

5. Societal polarization. Moves towards the extreme end of the political spectrum in a country should be a warning sign that something bad could be occurring. This can manifest itself in arrests of well known moderates, or silencing of voices urging cooperation and restraint. Media outlets play a major role in this factor, as they are the ones putting out both moderate and extremist views. In late March of this year, newspapers in Burma were asked to no longer report about violence visited against the Rohingya people.

Knowledge of the factors that make genocide more likely to occur can mean prevention of future tragedies. When these elements exist within a society, advocates should be more vigilant, and call on those with the capacity to make a change to do so.

Atrocities in the Central African Republic: What Happens Now?

This post is written by Michael Mansheim, STAND Programs Intern, who is a senior at American University. 

The bloody conflict occurring in the Central African Republic has taken an increasingly dark turn in recent weeks. On May 28th, the Muslim Seleka militia group killed 11 people at a Catholic Church in the capital of Bangui. The attack is said to be in response to an attack three days before, when three young Muslim men were killed on their way to play in a soccer game promoting reconciliation. In the wake of the two attacks, the central government temporarily banned the use of text messaging on June 4th in a search for stability and an end to the violent demonstrations that have ensued in the wake of the attacks.

In the Central African Republic, a conflict which began as a civil war with various rebel groups vying for control of the country has now descended into a widespread religious conflict. The religious breakdown of the country is approximately 50% Christian, 35% holding indigenous beliefs, and 15% Muslim. However, due to the violence in the country and mass flight of refugees, especially Muslims, much doubt can be cast these demographics continue to remain true.

The situation often seemingly bounces between bad and worse, with many thousands of people being killed in the last several years. The Muslim Seleka armed group and Christian anti-balaka armed group constitute a grave threat to the security of the country. It should be noted that both groups are not one unified front, but are instead increasingly fracturing into splinter factions.

The International Crisis Group reports that the greatest danger of these groups is that unlike many other armed groups in the region, they pose more of a police threat than any sort of military threat, due to the fact that instead of waging war to capture and hold territory, they both seem committed to wiping the opposing group out.

In addition to the suffering and militias forming inside its borders, the Central African Republic also suffers from weak borders. With the civil conflict increasingly taking a more religious tone since 2013, mercenaries and other fighters are pouring across the Sudanese and Chadian borders. These fighters even include Janjaweed fighters infamous for their atrocities committed in the genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan.

To combat the spread and intensifying of existing conflict, the EU, African Union and UN are all contributing peacekeeping forces to the country. The current AU led force, MISCA, is assigned with the duty of protecting civilians caught in the violence. The UN force is expected to arrive in September 2014, while the small EU force is tasked with the mission of securing peace in the immediate Bangui airport.

The AU troops are taking a more direct role in supporting the protection of civilians, especially convoys of Muslim refugees who are leaving the country in droves. The mass flight of Muslims, already a minority in the country, is changing the demographic makeup of the country leaving some areas abandoned. The UN operation is mandated to begin on September 15th, and is tasked with protecting civilians and working to implement justice for those affected by the conflict- among its other responsibilities. On the ground, the French mission as well as MISCA have been seen by many as being ineffective and plagued by inter-force communication problems, something the UN force can hopefully improve.